Chapter 25—"All You Need Is Love"
I went to class, worked on the newspaper and got home early afternoon. I didn’t feel tired. I felt different. I ate lunch and was washing up the dishes left from the night before.
Peter walked up and said, “You look happy.” I smiled at him. He took a dishtowel and starting drying. Nothing needed saying.
The phone rang. We ignored it. Marty could answer or they could call back. This was more important. This being with Peter.
I could sense Marty’s presence behind us. He was silent. I turned and looked at him. “Who was it?” I asked.
He didn’t say anything. His teeth and fist were clenched.
I stopped what I was doing, a rinsed plate poised above the drain tray. “Marty, is something wrong?”
“I don’t know how to say this.” He looked at Peter, imploring, asking for help with his eyes.
“That was Hook’s mom.” He hesitated.
“What did she want? Is she looking for Hook? He had a meeting at the VA in Chicago this morning.”
Marty looked at me, looked at Peter, tears clouding his eyes. “What did she want?” I asked again.
“There was an accident on I94.”
My heart started beating hard. I didn’t want to hear what I was afraid I was going to hear. “What are you trying to tell me?” I still held the dish with my rubber-gloved hand.
Marty walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. He looked at me gently but I saw the tears in his eyes. He looked at Peter.
I looked at both of them. “What?”
“Becky, Hook’s dead.”
The plate crashed to the floor. I quickly followed. Peter and Marty surrounded me. They didn’t know that for the last week Hook made me laugh and loved me into some kind of loveliness. They didn’t know that I healed a bit, that I thought I could never find gentleness again, but I had. That I thought I didn’t deserve goodness anymore, but I did. They didn’t know that the beautiful gorgeous man with one hand held me in a full body hug and said, “I’ll see you later.” They didn’t know I was waiting for him to call. That I was waiting for it to finally be the time.
Without letting go of me, Peter asked, “What happened?”
“A drunk driver. Three people died and two more are in the hospital. The police called his mother. She called us.”
I was frantic. “It wasn’t him. I know it wasn’t him. He told me he was taking the train in. It wasn’t him.” I tried to get up. I wanted to go outside and run and run and never stop but at the end of the run, the truth would still be there. I didn’t want to hear the truth, to feel the truth, to know the truth. I was afraid of what the truth might do.
“Becky,” Marty said without letting go. “They found his license and college I.D. It was him.”
I choked. “It was my fault. He was late because of me. He missed his train because of me. We ate doughnuts. We drank coffee.” For some reason I had this idea that if I kept on talking, if I just kept on talking, I wouldn’t have to feel what I was going to feel. I wouldn’t have to admit the truth. “I gave him another doughnut. I made him stay and have another doughnut. That made him late so he had to drive instead of take the train in. He missed his train because of me. Then he took his car and he died because of me. Everyone dies because of me.”
Marty stroked my hair. “It wasn’t your fault. The entire system was down for a couple of hours because of electrical problems. No trains headed into Chicago this morning. He drove because there were no trains.”
“It was a glazed doughnut. He ate it. Then he hugged me for a long time. If he left ten minutes earlier it wouldn’t have happened. Or if he left ten minutes later. Or one minute. But he left when he did because of me. If I hadn’t given him another doughnut. But I did. I gave him another doughnut. If he hadn’t hugged me for so long.”
That’s when I got up, when I forced myself to get up, when I jerked away from Peter and Marty. I took off the rubber gloves and threw them on the floor and ran outside barefoot in the November cold screaming as loud as I could. I ran and ran until I couldn’t run anymore. I stopped, leaned over to catch my breath. The world seemed bleak and my feet were cold. I didn’t know what to do.
I did the only thing I could. I went inside. I sat on the couch. I put the blanket from the back of the couch around my feet and I stared at nothing. Peter brought me a cup of tea. I drank it. I didn’t know what else to do. Marty sat next to me and put his hand on my leg. It brought a strange sense of comfort. They loved him too. I couldn’t forget they loved him too.
I turned to Marty. “I gave him another doughnut.”
“I know.” Marty pulled me to him and let me cry until I couldn’t cry anymore. Seems I was always crying until I couldn’t cry anymore.
Ginger came home as soon as she heard. She loved him too. She sat with me, sang to me, covered me with a blanket, stroked my back. Within a couple of hours Jake showed up. He loved him too.
I looked around at all my friends, all Hook’s friends. We’d been here before, last August, before I really knew Peter, before I knew R.J., before I knew loveliness. They’d been here when Jeff died. We would heal together.
Tears came and went. Stories came and went. Laughter came and went. We tried to eat. It wasn’t going down easily.
I couldn’t be alone in my attic room at night staring at my posters, seeing his face, feeling his hug. I crawled into bed with Marty. I said to him, “He loved me into loveliness.” That’s all I could say. Marty held me all night.
I couldn’t let this take me down. I had come out of that deep well of sadness and I couldn’t go back into it. I couldn’t stay in Marty’s bed forever. The next night I went up to my attic room and lay on the bed, my comforter pulled up around my shoulders, staring at the ceiling, not seeing anything because it was too dark to see anything, but seeing everything because it was all so open and raw and painful and sad. My body twitched. I tried to calm my legs, will them to stop twitching but they wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t lie there anymore.
I put on my shoes and walked quietly down the stairs. I didn’t want to wake anyone up. I didn’t want to worry anyone. I could get through this. I got through Jeff. Hook’s hug in Chicago gave me hope and helped get me through. The problem was, I didn’t have Hook to help me get through him. I didn’t have his hugs to sustain and hold me. I would never have his hugs again.
I opened the back door and closed it behind me without making a sound. I walked to the garden plot behind the house where Peter planted winter vegetables. I picked a leaf of kale and took a bite. It was bitter and raw, like me. I leaned down and touched a winter squash, cradled it in my hands. It was living. Maybe it would help me live. “God damn it,” I said to the squash, to the stars, to anyone who would listen. “I didn’t tell you about Stinson’s party. You didn’t tell me about Vietnam. I didn’t show you my magic trick. You didn’t give me a one-handed back massage. It was never the time.” My heart beat hard, my breathing shallow. I couldn’t endure the pain anymore. I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other anymore. I picked the squash off the vine, stood up and threw it as far as I could.
Then gently, ever so gently, a breeze circled round me, embracing my body. It circled round my feet, my thighs, my chest, my arms, then around my head, caressing my cheeks. The breeze covered me and held me. Hook. He would never leave me. Never.
The next day Jake and Marty went into Chicago to identify the body. I didn’t go. I gave up the chance to see him one last time.
We went to Hook’s apartment to take care of his stuff. Once again I had to take care of stuff.
I didn’t know how I would be able to go back into his apartment. The red bandana would be on the shelf by the door where I left it. The dishes would be in the drain tray. His toothbrush would be in the cup where I left it to dry. A note would be on the counter: “Give me a call when you’re home.” He wouldn’t be there. I had to go. Maybe I could find some little part of him there.
I walked around the apartment aimlessly, touching everything, rubbing my hand across the top of the dresser, picking up the pillow on his bed and putting it to my face. It didn’t smell musty and mildewed. It smelled like him. On his dresser I found the small peace button he picked out that day in Commons so long ago. I pinned it on my jacket.
Marty, Peter, Ginger and Jake didn’t know how to start. I was the only one with stuff experience. “Let’s start with the bedroom,” I finally said. I opened a drawer and took out his shirts. I noticed that he had no shirts with buttons. I never noticed that before. I leaned against the wall, holding the shirts. Then I slid down to the floor with his shirts held tightly to my chest. I cried until I was dry. They let me.
Peter found the bottle of Ripple in the cupboard and poured five glasses. For Hook, I drank the Ripple. For Hook, I raised a glass.
We piled up the clothes. After the dirty things were washed, Jake would find people who could use them. We left the furniture.
Marty took the poster on the wall above the bed – a psychedelic peace sign. In the corner Hook wrote, “It don’t mean nothin’.” It meant everything. Jake took the other poster that said, “Fuck the draft.” Ginger took a strand of beads. Peter was satisfied with his memories. I took the red bandana. We’d send the personal items to his mom. I was going to hand deliver his medals to her in Cleveland on the way home for Christmas break.
Thanksgiving was somber that year. While we ate, Hook’s body was at the morgue ready to be shipped to Cleveland by the government for proper burial. The next Monday we gave him his final good-bye at Commons. He’d been dead a week. The snack bar was full. Hook touched everybody in his own special way.
Professor Garson spoke first. “I met Dennis McKinney the night before orientation. He walked away from my orientation group after only an hour and never returned. He often came by my office and we chatted about life, the war, college, what he was going to do next. It took him a while to forgive what the war did to him. But he did. He was one of the kindest people I have ever met.”
Don’t make me cry Garson. I need to be stoic, like the Kennedy wives.
Fuck that. I cried.
Jake talked of Hook and the anti-war movement. “I bribed him into coming to the first meeting. Can’t even remember what I promised him and I’m sure I didn’t pay up. I remember him saying that he didn’t want to be the symbol of the protest. I am so grateful he decided to come. He was a true friend.”
Marty told about how I tried to protect Hook from the commuter at the Lake Forest train station. “By the time the train came, Hook was best friends with the guy. The shook hands and probably exchanged phone numbers.”
Ginger said, “Most of you don’t know that Hook had a killer voice.” How come I never knew that? Masseuse, chef, magician, singer. “He generally didn’t sing when there were a lot of people around. But sometimes I lucked out. He’d find me sitting under a tree somewhere on campus and join me. Those are the days I will always remember.”
I put two quarters in the juke box and pressed A7 six times. “All You Need Is Love.” I could hear the hook beating out the beat. But love is never enough. The Beatles had it wrong.
My friends were afraid that Hook’s death would destroy me. But his love was too strong for that. He brought me back to life.
Ginger gave me four days to write an article about Dennis for the school newspaper. “You can do this,” she said. I stood before her shaking my head no.
“I don’t want to write any more tributes.”
“No one else can do this, Becky. It’s your story.”
I met my deadline.
By Becky Jamison
Dennis McKinney hugged. We loved him for a lot of things but the hugs stood out. If you never had a Dennis McKinney hug you missed out on one of the most amazing experiences you could have in life.
These arms come around you and you feel his strength around your back. Your shoulders touch and you feel like you are melting into his body. Every inch of your chest becomes part of this hug, then the hips, the thighs, the knees. Before you know it, you are surrounded by this metaphysical force and you never want to leave.
That’s a Dennis McKinney hug.
Dennis was in my freshman orientation group for an hour before he walked away, never to come back. I thought I would never see him again but he showed up at the anti-war table in Commons one day at lunch and we forged a friendship that will never be broken even in death.
Here’s what you might not know about Dennis McKinney.
He was a chef, masseuse and magician all wrapped into one. He could chop a carrot with flare, massage a foot until it felt completely alive and relaxed at the same time and stun you with his card tricks.
He was opinionated. He knew what he believed and he said it with conviction, humility and kindness. “No doubt about it,” he said one day at an anti-war meeting. “This war is immoral and we must do everything we can to stop it.” He never wavered and worked until his death speaking out against the war.
He was a procrastinator. He always did what he said he would do, but it never came in early. I can still hear Dennis say, “Why did I wait until the last minute to do this paper?”
He was drop dead gorgeous. Maybe that’s not the right thing to say about someone in a newspaper article but with Dennis, how could you not? The red bandana he wore around his hair brought it all out.
He was funny. Get him talking about how to stab cockroaches with a hook and within minutes you wouldn’t be able to breath.
He would die for his friends and he almost did. Even after he lost his hand, he put himself in danger pulling two of his buddies out of a swamp in Vietnam. There was nothing that Dennis McKinney wouldn’t do for me.
In the end, Dennis lost his life because of a drunk driver. He died knowing he was loved beyond compare. He is missed every single day.
By the way, his friends called him Hook.
U.S. Soldier Body Count: 35,614